Saturday, April 14, 2007

Henry, why are you here...? Waldo, why are you not here?

This exchange of e-mail with my son in Bangkok (a recent graduate, working an internship in Thailand) is an attempt to fulfill an obligation incumbent on all civil disobedients--public declaration and acknowledgement of consequences.

On 4/13/07, Jim Bouman wrote: [from Waukesha]
It is 6:45 Friday evening here, a really nice day. We'll grill some chicken in a little while, then watch a movie.

Mom and I talked something over and made a decision. We'll probably owe about $6,000 (in four quarterly chunks) in federal taxes on the 16th of April [see April 17 update below]. We are going to send in the tax form with that number on the bottom line.

We will be sending a letter instead of a check, explaining that we refuse to pay this first installment. If they want it, they'll be doing what they did the last time we did this--in the 1970s. They came and took my check, our savings, mom's check. One day they even came to the house on Madison Street and threatened to impound our car to cover the taxes and penalties we had incurred. Those were the days.

And we're back to doing it. This war is so ugly. It is a crime committed by this generation, that will be hung on you and your children to pay for.

I'll start the grill now.
Talk to you soon. Sunday early would be a good to time to Skype.

Dad


On 4/14/07, jesse bouman wrote: [from Bangkok]
I don't understand what withholding taxes actually does. Does it make you feel better, that you are doing something against the war? Is it productive in any way? Are there any real benefits that come from this decision? I don't see the benefits outweighing the costs and I think there are more practical ways to voicing your opinion. You are living in an age where technology gives anyone the ability to voice their opinion. You have a blog, use it. National publications quote blogs as sources now; you know this. Something like [blogging] can incite actual change. I don't agree with withholding taxes....

It's your life, your money, and your decision.

Jesse


On April 15, Jim Bouman wrote [from Waukesha]:
Thoreau called it: "...the Duty of Civil Disobedience".

Thoreau objected, to the very core of his being, to the Mexican War--perhaps the most unjust war in earlier American history)--in 1847. There were a number of taxes citizen Thoreau was obligated to pay, including a poll tax, road tax and others, but no income tax. Refusal to pay the poll tax carried more weight than mere words. To be sure and he and others had written and spoken many words on the Mexican War--all to little effect in ending it. He went to jail for that refusal. While he was in jail, his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson came to visit and said: "Henry, why are you here?". To which Thoreau responded: "Waldo, why are you not here?".

Refusing to pay a portion of taxes that are specifically required for carrying out war was his--and now my--way of speaking with greater force and urgency.

One cannot be a tax evader--one who tries to get away with non-payment of taxes. The refusal must be public, intentional, principled, carefully-thought-out, and with the aim of stopping something that has not been stoppable by the ordinary constitutionally-protected means --public statements, organizing, working together in groups, blogging.

This war has now gone on for 49 months. The cost in lives and treasure and suffering is beyond imagining for most of us. More than 650,000 Iraqi lives (the vast majority of them civilian non-combatants), more than $416 billion, four million refugees, 3,300 American lives. And the President is arguing that his Iraq project needs $92 billion more, right now, and demanding that Congress appropriate that money right now.

And these April 16 taxes we intend to refuse to pay are to be part of that wad that will be spent. Sending in the money is assent; it says that we are doing our part

We pay--cheerfully--for Head Start and cops and streetlights and Universities and research and foreign aid, and school bands and orchestras--most everything else that is governmental. And since 1975 we have always paid, cheerfully, on-time, all the taxes we owed, Federal State and Local.

And we always, always vote.

At this moment, though, we think that these things are not enough.

We are going to do it publicly; we'll be urging others to do it, as well (punishable as conspiracy). And, perhaps, like a snowball rolling down hill, it will gather the weight and mass necessary to become a roadblock to more of this war, more of any war.

A story: In 1970, mom and I joined the war tax resistance and refused to pay a portion of income tax, as well as a little-known excise tax that had been identified as being specifically necessary to pay for war. It was the 10% telephone excise tax on long distance phone service. Eventually about 50 thousand Americans began refusing each month to pay this phone tax. The way we did it was to send in payment for phone service to the phone company and deduct the 28 cents or 41 cents (some piddling amount) that was listed as Fed. Tax. The phone company simply reported to the IRS that the customer had refused the tax. Didn't hurt Ma Bell. The phone companies, in fact, hated being the unwilling tax collector.

People laughed at this ineffectual, chickenshit, approach to bringing the war machine to a halt. Johnson, then Nixon, just kept on escalating the Vietnam War, despite growing revulsion toward what we were doing in that far-off country.

But the kicker: years after Nixon was gone--resigned in disgrace for other war-related criminal activity, (it wasn't the crime, it was the cover-up) his White House/Oval Office taping system that had secretly recorded years of presidential conversations was released, a few tapes at a time, by the National Archives.

There, in the Oval Office, at just the moment he was preoccupied with the heat coming down and impending impeachment, Nixon is heard complaining loud and bitterly to Haldemann to "Get something done about those damned telephone tax protesters".

Drip, drip, drip. Twenty eight cents a month multiplied by 50 thousand. It clearly got under the skin of the guy--sleazy, lowlife, quack-Quaker that he was--we were sending a message to.

Dad


Update: Our extremely competent and and conscientious tax accountant informs us that we actually overpaid 2006 taxes by about $3000--a combination of lack of coordination between quarterly estimated tax payments and withholding on withdrawals from IRAs.

I'm torn beween "Drat!" and "Cool"! The refusal will have to wait until July estimated payment is due (drat). The unexpected refund will go to paying off the school debts of our two--a recent graduate (that's you) and a soon-to-graduate (that's Daisy).

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Waukesha, Wisconsin, United States
Of my biblical allotment of three score and ten I have lived only three of them more than a bicycle ride from one of the Great Lakes. I'm a "somewhat combative pacifist and a fairly cooperative anarchist," after the example of Grace Paley (1922-2007). I'm always cheerful when I pay my taxes (having refused--when necessary--to pay some portion of them). And I always, always vote.